We firmly believe that less is more when it comes to toys.
Now, let’s get one thing straight: I’m not an expert by any means. But I do try to read as much as possible because I want to do the best I can for my child. This article touches a bit on our philosophy, and helps shed some light on why you should just keep things simple.
In short, “fewer toys help children use and develop their imagination, lengthen attention span, promotes taking care of and valuing the toys they do have more while creating greater opportunities to explore nature. As a benefit to parents, fewer toys results in less clutter in our homes, helping us to feel more grounded, have more time to play with our kids and more patience to extend to our kids.”
But the article also discusses the importance of the type of toys you’re providing, as some have much more value – in terms of how they serve our children – to offer than others.
“…When assessing a toy, always be mindful that the play is in the child, not in the toy. If a toy lights up or makes noises, and all the child needs to do is press a button, that toy holds very little play value. These types of toys provide an immediate dopamine rush, make the child and the giver excited, but they are short-lived. On the flip side, toys like wooden blocks or magnatiles or silk scarves don’t dictate the play to the child – they hold greater play value as the child is free to use their imagination for endless play possibilities.”
Couple that with our belief in the Montessori-style of learning, and it really wasn’t difficult at all to set up this inviting play space for Ro.
Compared to most traditional play rooms, our space can be considered “minimalistic,” which works well for us too, since we’re in an apartment and like to keep things simple and clutter free (it’s great for mental health!).
Now that she’s moving and grooving quite a bit, she’s interested in all sorts of things and this space gives her the freedom to explore, experiment and discover, on her own terms.
According to this article, “Montessori children’s environments are carefully designed to encourage independence and concentration.”
Part of the philosophy involves giving children more freedom and independence by allowing them to access items themselves – they can view and reach everything themselves. This helps facilitate learning and fosters confidence.
So the main feature of Ro’s play space is a low 6-cube shelf which houses most of her toys. The shelf is at her height, giving her full access to everything.
One important feature of Montessori-style play spaces is the lack of a giant toy box. While tempting to have, as they serve as a huge catch all for every toy under the sun, that’s the exact reason for avoiding them – it breeds an overabundance of toys, and it’s rare that every item gets use (toys are often forgotten at the bottom).
The cube is affixed to the wall for safety, and everything on top is also affixed to the cube with 3M sticky strips – to prevent falling and/or grabbing.
We kept things pretty simple and decided to do two sections of board books, all of which she can reach herself – she loves to take them off the shelf and then put them back later.
We have a lot more books for her in storage that we’ll swap out as she gets older. Having a smaller number of books displayed at one time helps prevent overstimulation.
Reading to your children everyday is extremely important at every age not only because it exposes them to language, but also because it introduces them to storytelling, which is a fundamental piece of human life.
Here are a few of our favorite board books – the ones Ro constantly reaches for and wants to read (they are also super cute storylines for adults):
Small Cloth Bins to Hold Smaller Toys
These bins are used to help declutter the space and to make it more aesthetically pleasing. They are much smaller than a toy box, so it’s easy to avoid over purchasing toys.
We chose basic, neutral colors, as is the Montessori way – an abundance of bright colors is overstimulating and distracting for little minds. Small bursts of bright color are OK, but you want to stick to natural colors when possible, or softer, paler colors.
Inside the bins are a handful of smaller toys:
This cloth doll has bits of velcro that allow the child to attach different outfits to it, changing out hats and dresses. It’s actually a hand-me-down from my childhood – my mom bought this at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
These are sensory balls. They are great for developing your child’s tactile senses and gross motor skills, and helps them improve hand-eye coordination.
This adorable little cloth play scene is inspired by the popular children’s book, Madeline, and it’s another hand-me-down from my childhood (the tag on it says 1992). Ro is absolutely obsessed with it, and carries the little dog around with her all day!
Though not quite the same, I did find a similar item here.
Play silks are a very common feature in Montessori-style play spaces, as they are extremely open-ended toys. They can be anything from a cape to a dress, and serve any purpose your child an imagine.
We have two types of stacking toys displayed, and I love how beautiful they are. Plus, they match the color scheme in our home, so it’s not a stark contrast.
The toy on the right is fun because the base is not flat – it’s the shape of a half moon, so it wobbles a bit when your child attempts to stack the rings. Ro thinks it’s great fun, and has even now learned to hold it still while stacking! You can find it here.
This other stacking toy is meant to encourage creative play, as the “rings” can be nested together neatly (in the first photo above), or, you can stack them in different configurations (like the photo immediately above). You can find it here.
The other openly-displayed item is this wooden airplane swing from Montgomery Schoolhouse Toys in Vermont, which unfortunately, they no longer make. It’s yet another hand-me-down from my childhood, and Ro loves it because of the movement, and because of the little peg people that sit in the airplanes. I couldn’t find anything similar, but, I did find this.
Shape Sorter Box
We actually have two of these – one was a gift – and Ro loves them!
At 14 months old, she figured out how it actually works – shaped block coincides with shaped hole – but prior to that, she would stack the shapes, put them in and out of the box, and hide them.
This kind of toy is great because “they improve finger dexterity and help children hone their fine motor skills. This helps with handwriting and using scissors. Also, shape sorters teach young toddlers cause and effect and object permanence. When they put the shape through the hole, it disappears, but once they look in the container, it’s still there.“
It’s also a very open-ended toy, which means children find lots of different creative uses for it. You can find it here.
The recommended age for this is actually 3+, but we received it as a hand-me-down from my in laws (they used it at their home for both of our nieces) when Ro was only 10 months old. And honestly, she gravitated towards it right away. She was standing on her own at that point, and also beginning to take her first steps, so we felt is was an appropriate toy. We did make sure to affix it to a wall, to avoid any tipping.
The decorative plants and “good vibes only” sign are affixed to the top of the kitchen with 3M sticky strips, again, to avoid falling and/or Ro pulling them down.
We picked up a few actual kitchen accessories to add to her pretend play, such as a strainer, water pitcher and mixing bowls. She also has a set of dishes and cups, which she loves to stack and put away in the cabinets.
Inside the cabinets are wooden food groups – meats, fruits and veggies, dairy and breads – and she absolutely loves playing with them – you can find them here. She gets creative and sorts them, stacks them and even “pours” them from the water pitcher. Her imagination really is at work when she’s playing with this kitchen!
She also has another set of different foods, which are flat, and make for really great stacking. This particular set was a gift, and I couldn’t find the exact one, but here’s something similar.
Babydoll Crib and Cloth Babies
At this age, children are learning critical everyday skills simply by watching the adults in their lives – washing their face, brushing their teeth, cleaning, cooking, caretaking, etc. Having pretend play areas where they can practice these skills is important, as it helps build the foundation for everything they’ll do throughout life.
It’s very common for children (boys AND girls) to want to take care of baby dolls, so we set up a cute little cradle with a few cloth dolls.
The specific cradle we have was actually something we found in a thrift shop, but I found a similar one here.
Our goal is to eliminate plastic whenever possible, so that’s why we chose cloth dolls.
We also think it’s important for Ro to have babies of all skin colors, and I love that this company offers them, although sadly, the Hispanic and African American babies were sold out when we ordered. But, we know they make them, so we can always add them!
Another important feature of a Montessori-style play space is a “chill” area – aka a place where your child can sit back, relax and chill out. It’s also a comfortable, inviting space where children can curl up with a book.
Since my husband and I are huge readers, we loved this idea, and purposely designed the area to serve us as well. It’s very common for one of us to sit with Ro, each of us reading our own book.
We found this fluffy rug at Target, and added oversized pillows in various colors and textures. There’s even a basket full of throw blankets in case you want to get extra cozy! I can definitely see us cuddling up here and watching a movie on a snow day (when she’s older of course! We don’t currently allow any screen time).
Along the lines of the importance of keeping toys at their height, it’s also key to have seating that is child sized.
We no longer use a highchair, and have instead swapped in this table and chair from IKEA, which is the perfect size for Ro! She can eat at it, color at it, or stack her blocks on it.
Underneath the table, we have an amazing splatter mat from Gathre, which is not only beautiful, but it protects our rug from food messes – honestly, it’s the only reason our rugs are still cream colored!
We also have a child size rocking chair set out in our living room space, which gives Ro her own spot to sit and reflect. Just like her play kitchen, this is actually recommended for older toddlers, but, she gravitated towards it the second we put it out, and actually started sitting in it right around 7 months old. I think it really helped contribute to her balance!
Obviously, constant supervision is important.
How are you encouraging your child to learn through play? Are these certain toys you think would make a great addition to your play space?
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